COVID-19 variant first reported in the U.K. detected in Hamilton

Hamilton Public Health Services (HPHS) has identified the first case of the COVID-19 variant first reported in the U.K.

This comes just one day after Hamilton entered the red-control zone instead of continuing to remain in the province’s stay-at-home order.

“Modelling and epidemiological studies suggest that the COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom can spread easier and faster,” reads a statement from public health.

“Hamilton Public Services continues to monitor the local situation as it relates to COVID-19 and the presence of variants within the community.”

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the city’s medical officer of health, has warned the public over the last few weeks about how variants of COVID-19 could eventually end up in the city.

In a statement Wednesday, she said people should take this news seriously.

City cannot let its guard down, public health says

“It’s vital that as places in the community begin to open up that we don’t start to let our guard down, this is not the time to let our good habits begin to slip,” she said by email.

“Hamilton Public Health Services is prepared for this and has implemented a number of enhanced measures in accordance to the provincial guidance documents. As prepared as we are, it’s extremely important that all members of the community are prepared as well.”

Haldimand and Norfolk counties first saw the variant in late January.

Now, HPHS is urging people to stay vigilant.

“It is vital that members of the public, even those who have been vaccinated, ensure that public health measures still be practiced until it is safe and said to be safe by the health professionals in all levels of government,” reads the statement.

Dr. Dominik Mertz, Hamilton Health Sciences’ medical director of infection prevention control, adds just because the city is in the Red-Control zone now, doesn’t mean things will get better from here.

“It’s not that we will just continue to go into Orange, Green and Yellow. Chances are it may go into the other direction at least one more time.”

Variant was likely in Hamilton before Wednesday

He also said public health looked for traces of the variant in positive cases, but found nothing, “which probably was a coincidence.”

Roughly 10 days ago, Mertz said they started sending test results to try and detect any of the variants — and now they have.

He says now any COVID-19 positive test result could be the new variant from this point onward. He adds the variant is between at a 30 and 70 per cent higher risk of spreading.

“When you look at the population living here … that may result in a significant increase in cases,” Mertz said.

Vaccines still effective: public health

Public health says there’s no evidence to suggest the vaccines are less effective against the B117 variant.

HPHS says it revised how it manages all COVID-19 cases and identifies close contacts to line up with new provincial recommendations.

It also introduced a new tool to help increase the speed and capacity for contact tracing and case management.

With the variant in the community, public health says the precautions remain the same:

  • Stay home if you feel unwell.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms or were in close contact with a confirmed positive case.
  • Limit gatherings to only members of your immediate household.
  • Stay two meters away from people outside of your immediate household
  • Wear a mask or face covering indoors and outdoors when you can’t physically distance.
  • Wash your hands.

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